Soldiers of the Cross: Time, Narrative and Affect

‘Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry’s Soldiers of the Cross of 1900’, Magic Lantern Convention, Australasian Magic Lantern Society, Melbourne, 27-28 October 2012.

INTRODUCTION

The Salvation Army lecture of 1900, Soldiers of the Cross, was an extremely important event in the history of Australian media. It is reasonably well known, but because it included fifteen sections of kinematographic film along with its 200 lantern slides, until now it has largely been seen through the lens of subsequent Australian cinema history. Although it does have a place in that narrow teleology, it is much more important to a larger archaeology of media experience in Australia.  So I would like to discuss it on its own terms, and in particular try to think about it from the point of view of its audience’s experience. I would like to tease out two related aspects of that experience: the sense of realistic action it gave its audience, and the emotional affect it generated in them. In doing so I am building on the previous work of Chris Long, who discussed the production in the 1990s from the point of view of cinema, Elizabeth Hartrick who discussed it recently from the much more relevant point of view of broader Australian lantern slide culture, and Lindsay Cox who has discussed it from the point of view of the heritage of the Salvation Army. I’d also like to thank the National Film and Sound Archive who gave me access to the Soldiers of the Cross slides during my Collection Scholars and Artist Residency fellowship.

THE MYTH

Soldiers of the Cross has acquired a mythic status as Australia’s first film. It was not. Furthermore, a fixation on its an some kind of lost originary text has worked to obscure the complex multimedia work of the Salvation Army at the time, as well as the complex multimedia landscape of Australia as a whole. So one must return to it with circumspection. In addition, large parts of the production have been lost — the fifteen or so kinematographic films, and the script itself. All that remains are about 250 slides in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive, which have not even all been scanned. In addition, this collection may have been modified after the initial production. Nonetheless, through looking carefully at the slide which are available, and putting them in their projection sequence by following the numbering system written on their edges, and then correlating that with published accounts of the production as well as scripts from other related productions, I think it is possible to make some general speculations about how it would have been experienced at the time. Further, I want to argue that seen on its own terms, stripped of its myth, it is an even more important and precious part of Australia’s history than we first thought

THE LIMELIGHT DEPARTMENT

Soldiers of the Cross was made in the middle of an extraordinary period of Australian media, from 1891 to 1909, when the Salvation Army were using advanced technologies to do two things: to convert souls to Christ, and to recruit new members to the Army. During this period the Army saw themselves as competing for attention with all of the other fantastic, thrilling, colourful attractions of the nineteenth century: the panoramas, the cycloramas, the dioramas, the pantomimes, the illuminated transparencies, the kinetoscope parlours, and the moving cavalcade of the streets themselves.

For instance in 1894 Joseph Perry of the Army’s Limelight Department used a limelight magic lantern to stage an outdoor meeting in a vacant lot on a cold and wet night in the middle of winter in the middle of Melbourne to divert the people who were aimlessly drifting along Little Collins street. The illustration in the Army’s magazine War Cry of this somewhat dismal event dramatized how the lantern not only obliterated with a blast of light the Schnapps ad on the side of the pub across which they had stretched their projection sheet, it also literally shouldered aside the attractions offered by Melbourne’s Cyclorama building. Other War Cry illustrations visually dramatized the ways the Army directly pitted their limelight lectures against the tired old productions of the theatre.

During this early period Perry used a variety of commercially produced and distributed media. From later in the 1890s they began to use commercial kinematographic films, as well as the gramophone recordings. But right from the early 1890s they extensively used many different types of lantern slide, these included: dissolving mechanical slides and chromatropes, which had been shown in Australia for over forty years; painted slides and life-model slides, that is hand-coloured photographed slides of models enacting a sequence of tableaus in front of painted backdrops to accompany the verses of a song, poem or short narrative, which had been popular for several years; ‘social’ slides, photographs of slum life and charitable works; song slides which projected the words of hymns for audience participation; and finally hand-coloured copies of famous paintings and engravings, such as Millais’s Light of the World  or Doré’s bible engravings.

The commercial slides the Army used before Soldiers of the Cross tell their stories in an iterative way, like visual verses. Some, such as Jane Conquest, which the Army used, are entirely painted, so they are able to move their narratives through a series of diverse scenes, though they are nonetheless locked into the repetitive verse structure of the accompanying poem that will be read by the lecturer. Other, such as the life-model set Daddy, are photographic, so they repeat exactly the same scene with only slight variation, in a strophic way. Many of these slides also feature additional special effects, usually angels, projected over another slide by a skilled lanternist, or collaged onto a slide by a skilled slide maker. Many commercial slide manufacturers copied each other in the competition for market share, so there is not much innovation during the 1890s.

From 1894 the Limelight Department began to produce its own life model slides, social slides and, from 1897, kinematographs of both ‘life model’ and ‘social’ topics. And they began to innovate on commercial formats.

When Herbert Booth took over as Commandant of the Salvation Army in 1896 he moved this production to the centre of the Army’s proselytizing, and began to work closely with Joseph Perry. They produced a major slide and kinematograph lecture in the ‘social’ genre called Social Salvation in 1899, and then embarked on another lecture in 1900 in the ‘life-model’ genre to be called Soldiers of the Cross. Even after the departure of Herbert Booth, who quit the Army in 1901 and took Soldiers of the Cross with him to the US, the Army continued to make slide and kinematograph lectures for a further eight years, as well as becoming an independent and active production company, before being precipitously closed down in 1909.

THE PRODUCTION

So what of Soldier of the Cross itself? What was it? It was a lecture. Although it included narratives, these were chapters embedded in an overarching structure which was liturgical and sermonic. What did the lanterns project? Occasionally, during the two and a half hours of the performance, about fifteen 90 second Lumiere kinomatographs were shown, but primarily the audience experienced about 250 slides dissolving one into another. These slides were a bricolage from various sources: copies of paintings and Gustav Doré bible engravings; copies of one half of stereo view photographs, which had been previously sold in sets of twelve as travel views for viewing in a home stereoscope; and commercially produced life model slides. But, predominantly, the production featured Army produced life model slides.

THE ST STEPHEN SEQUENCE

The production began with general scenes of the Life of Christ, as well as two commercial kinematographs which were each one-minute reels, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, from the thirteen one-minute-reels of the Lumiere production The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ made in 1898.

After this introduction the first chapter was the Maryrdom of St Stephen.  This is based on the biblical story of the first Martyr. It opens with St Stephen before the Jewish court. Why, one wonders, does this first chapter open with five very repetitive slides where not much is happening, where the narrative isn’t moving? This is because in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles St Stephen spends a whole 53 verses defending himself against the Jewish court by recounting the story of Moses’ persecution. So it appears as though these slides would be dissolved, one in to another, perhaps quite slowly, as Booth recounted these 53 biblical verses.

After that, the Biblical narrative suddenly picks up. Stephen looks up and Heaven opens up to him. There he sees God with Jesus on his right hand. The Bible says:

 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried out in a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’ Acts 7 55-60

Booth and Perry have superimposed a commercial slide of Jesus and angels for the effect of Heaven opening up. (This effect could have been dissolved as a superimposition on top of the slide if they had been using a triurnial lantern, but they reportedly used a biurnial lantern, so to give the animated effect of the heavens opening, only a dissolve from one slide to another double-exposed version of the same slide was possible.) The backdrop painting for the exteriors has clearly been inspired by a Doré engraving, but the way the slides in this sequence have been made seems to differ. We begin with slides shot with models standing in front of a painted backdrop. But the slide of St Stephen being removed from the city seems to be assembled in a different way. I think it is a collage of cut-out photographs pasted onto a painted background, and re-shot onto a glass-slide before being hand-coloured. Both quite different techniques are used throughout Soldiers of the Cross.

The slides only follow the Biblical text loosely, but the general narrative would have been familiar enough to the audience. In the effect generated by the montage with the commercial slide we see Jesus and angels, not Jesus on the right hand of God. We don’t see the court stopping their ears, or other details. However the account of this chapter in the War Cry closely follows the slides we have:

The events that lead to the martyrdom of Stephen passed in review. The Sanhedrim, the trial, Stephen’s impeachment by the rulers and the stoning of the first martyr. The kinematograph was employed in this latter scene. The effect on the audience, as they beheld in a moving picture the innocent Stephen cruelly beaten to the earth, and killed by fiendish fanaticism of the formal religionists of his day cannot be described. The kinematograph give place to a picture of Stephen lying dead upon the roadside, while Paul (sic) the persecutor stands over him in an attitude of painful contemplation.’ (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

There are three slides numbered in sequence for the stoning, two are produced in one method, the third in the other method. The kinematograph would have come after this sequence of slides, which may have been dissolved more quickly, perhaps, than the earlier court slides. So the audience would have seen the same action again, repeated, but this time in moving picture.

We can get an indication perhaps of how this might have worked by looking at the script of a later set of life model slides called Lazarus, produced by the Army in 1902. This is a set of eight slides. The script for the later and shorter slide set tells the story of the raising of Lazurus with the usual cues for slide changes. At the end of the story the cue changes to ‘Kino’. Unfortunately the corner of the script has been torn off, but the lecturer says something like:

We shall now show you … (missing) … actually took place … (missing) … this remarkable miracle, most impressive and realistic. WE WILL SHOW YOU IN LIVING FORM WHERE MARTHA MEETS CHRIST, and tells him Lazurus is dead,…….’

The script then runs on as a commentary on the kinematograph, with prompts for the reader of the script for when the kinematograph scenes will change.

To return to the earlier, longer Soldiers of the Cross production, as the War Cry says, the kinematograph then gives way to a slide of Stephen lying dead, with Jesus receiving his spirit. Then we see a handcoloured copy of a lithographic reproduction of a Pre-Raphaelite Millais painting of St Stephen, before cutting back to two slides of Salvation Army Officer Colonel James Annetts, who played St Stephen, lying on the ground. Between the final two slides we see his crimson blood pool, and a crucial character for the next chapter, Saul, appear to look over him.

So in this chapter, even though viewers are experiencing a synthesized production, it is not built on anything like a unified visual syntax. Instead they are experiencing   at least four different modalities of affect, and four different expressions of time:

  1. A strophic, verse-like, iterative mode of slowly dissolving lantern slides, familiar from previous commercial slide sets
  2. A faster, more expository mode of action-tableaus, often in couplets, perhaps linked to an accelerated biurnial dissolve, which is an innovation of the commercial slide format
  3. The real-time animation and realistic living-picture mode of the kinematograph, giving a visceral feeling of natural movement
  4. The contemplative mode of a familiar work of ‘great art’ which is embedded in some kind of universal historico/aesthetic time

These different modalities I have identified are reflected in the contemporaneous comments on the production. For instance often the micro-movements magically captured by the kinematograph are mentioned, such as the splash of water as a martyr is thrown in a river, the rising of smoke, or the falling of stones. But also the beautiful colour of the slides is frequently mentioned. All of these modes, although not syntactically unified in any way we would recognize from subsequent cinema history, nonetheless worked together to directly involve the audience with the story through shared sight. This sense of collective witnessing, which this opening sequence sets up, is caught well by the War Cry:

We saw the great stones falling thick and fast upon the white robbed figure on the ground, till it grew strangely still. Then the ‘witnesses’ left the scene, and Saul of Tarsus stood alone looking down upon the dead young man. (MWC 29/9/00 p14)

SAUL

The next slide, after we have shared with Saul our contemplation of the dead St Stephen, is a shot of contemporary Damascus extracted from a stereograph. But we are still following the Bible pretty closely, because after being transported to contemporary Damascus as it was in 1900, the next slide whooshes us back to Biblical times for Saul’s conversion. We then see Saul’s own persecution, and a tight sequence of three slides which in an expository triplet show us his escape by basket from the walls of Damascus to continue his preaching.

These expository ‘runs’ of slides often seem to pick up momentum towards a kinematographic climax. For instance at slide number 72 there is a sequence of Romans raiding an outdoor service by Christians who are then forced to flee underground to continue their worship clandestinely in the catacombs, or by the cover of night. In 1901 this sequence was added to with a kinematograph of the Romans chasing the Christians across a plank over a stream, augmented with the much commented on comic relief of a Roman boinging off the springy plank and into the stream.

CATACOMBS

A later sequence focuses on life in the catacombs, perhaps to parallel life for Salvationists in the midst of pagan Melbourne. Like an establishing shot from a movie of twenty years later, it begins with an aerial map of the catacombs, and then swoops us down through the underground stone passages using stereo views from a commercial stereograph set. We then see daily life— worship, marriage, birth, sickness and eventual death — carried on in what I have called the ‘iterative’ mode through a mixture of Army collages and copies of prints and engravings. As the War Cry put it:

All these scenes, painted and reproduced to sight and sound by word and art pictures, simply enchain the mind, and carry one in thought 1800 years back through the ages. The listener sups, prays, praises, adores worships, suffers and dies with these saints of apostolic times.

The mode switches from ‘iterative’ to ‘expository’ for a detailed and strangely beautiful, even today, funeral sequence of four monochrome slides. Once more there is kinematographic climax, before a final extended contemplation of souls ascending into heaven painted in brilliant supersaturated colour, which may perhaps have been accompanied by music or singing.

About twenty slides later another quartet of slides appears which encapsulates a tight action. A Christian woman is about to be burnt to death in a lime-kiln. Will she offer just one grain of incense to the Pagan Gods and save herself? No! After pointing upwards to the one true god she disappears into the kiln. This again may have been followed by a kinematograph, with the added bonus of smoke effects. We have quite good scans of these slides and we can burrow into their details to appreciate the fine brushwork of the Army’s colouring studio applying swathes of colour on the robes and dabs of optical accents. These scans also bring us extraordinarily close to the ordinary Australian faces of the Army members who have consented to Booth’s request that they pose for his production.

Fourteen slides later, after another contemporary view of the coliseum, another run of five slides introduces an extended piece of action. Christians wait at the gate of the Coliseum, while a stuffed tiger with a virulent red tongue threatens them from a cage. Then the gates inch open in the final three slides, before a kinematograph shows the Christians entering the Coliseum (check), after which individual slides show their martyrdom. In the publicity for the production much is made of the violence of the scenes, but often the extreme action is not in the Army slides but in the copied prints. It seems unlikely to me that the kinematographs would have been any more violent than the slides.

PERPETUA SEQUENCE:

The final sequence of the two and half hour show was for many people the most affecting, in Hobart for instance, it caused ‘general sobbing’ in the audience. (MWC 26/1/01 p9)

Perpetua, played by the young, attractive Army member, Cadet Mabel Tolley was a young wealthy Roman woman who chose to give up her baby and be martyred in the coliseum rather than renounce Christ. This sequence of twenty slides perhaps only used the kinematograph at the very end. (CHECK) The sequence was remade at least two times again after Booth took Soldiers of the Cross away with him, and a script with slide and music cues exists, probably for a stand-alone version made shortly after Soldiers of the Cross. Although the slide cues of this script do not correspond exactly with the slides in Soldiers of the Cross they are pretty close and still, I think, give us a good sense of how the voice of the lecturer would have unified the experience for the audience. The surviving script is also punctuated with nine popular hymns requiring audience participation, with a hymn supplementing the narrative about every four slides. However in Soldier of the Cross itself there were most probably far fewer hymns because of the whole production’s larger scale, and they may have been sung for the audience.

The script is ekphrastic, that is, it describes what the audience is seeing with their own eyes, and rhetorically explains what they should be feeling. For instance, during a dissolve between two opening slides the script says:

We may picture the surprise of this Christian lady when sitting in one of her well furnished rooms. The stillness of the occasion was broken by the intrusion of two armed men. On learning the object of their sudden appearance, Perpetua showed neither fear nor alarm.

This was immediately followed by a hymn. Later, when she is cast into prison, the script tells the audience:

Glory filled her soul amidst the gloom of her surroundings.

Later on, a tight sequences of slides showed the visual evidence of interpersonal conflict, while the script provided the ekphrasis. After her father leaves, disappointed that he has not been able to convince her to drop the whole Jesus thing, the script says:

This was to her a dark and trying moment. The grey beard, the fatherly face, the agitated frame, the loving entreaties, and the stern rebuke; as well as the somber environment of the place, all spoke to her heart with a weird-like eloquence. Still she faltered not. An invisible power supported her even now.

As we have seen in the St Stephen sequence at the beginning of the production, the script is often self-referential, making direct links between Perpetua’s experience and the experience of the audience seeing the projected slides in Melbourne eighteen hundred years later. After Perpetua has finally handed over her baby to her mother the script says:

But when the mother had gone a dreary lull set in. The baby’s prattle had given way to a deep silence. The past rose in vivid pictures, and strong as she was in the grace of God, her poor heart was grief stricken. But there is always solace in prayer, and even in this dark dungeon Pepretua might well prove the unfailing words, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’.’

The script then calls for the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus.

After Perpetua has been martyred and before the final hymn the script ends with:

But the end was near, for soon Perpetua lay bruised and bleeding upon the floor of that slaughter house on iniquity still praying to Him she loved. The excited crowd yelled that her misery and pain might end with a thrust of the gladiator’s sword. A moment later the soul of Perpetua had gone to be with God, gone to hear her master say, “Now that thou hast been faithful unto death, I will give thee a Crown of Life”.

THE VOICE

Now we have looked in as much detail as possible at a few of the many sequences in this production, what general conclusions can be drawn? The unifying force in the piece was the voice, the live human voice reciting that sermon. That voice was provided first by the charismatic Herbert Booth, who spoke in ‘short and harmonious’ sentences, ‘constructed with due regard to the balance and equilibrium of the whole’ (MWC 22/9/00) then after he got sick by his equally charismatic wife. The War Cry  reported:

The lights went down, and the audience were hushed into breathless silence as the immense pictures were thrown upon the canvas. The Commandant’s voice alone broke the stillness thrilling the enthralled audience with burning words fitted in compact sentences, forming an eloquent and beautiful tribute to the heroic deeds and unflinching endurance of the saints whose pictorial reproduction riveted every eye. (MWC 22/9/00 p9)

Other connecting forces were musical, the familiar hymns and masses played by the orchestra and sung by the audience. But the dominant force which distinguished the limelight lecture from others was the lanternist himself, who was always present in the audience’s consciousness as his lanterns hissed and spluttered and projected their beam above their heads. As the War Cry noted:

Carefully watching the screen as the lecture progressed, and noting the rapid changes from one slide to another, from slide to kinematograph film, and then again from kinematograph film to slide, each appearing exactly at the right time, one could not help but admire the consummate skill with which Major Perry manipulated his elaborate and complicated apparatus. (MWV13/10/00 p8)

RETINAL POWER

The presence of the lanternist signaled the radical shift in the site of principle address which the Salvation Army made in their evangelism: from the body, or the ear, or the mind, or the voice — although these were of course still present — to the eye and to the retina; from the phenomenological architecture of the church to the dominating address of the projection sheet; from the magical ritual of the service to the retinal power of the projected image. This separation of the Army lecture from convention religious experiences was signaled as early as 1891. For instance in reporting on a 1891 limelight lecture by the Army’s founder, General William Booth, at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings the War Cry reported:

A dim religious light pervades the building, which was, however, relieved at one end by a huge white sheet, behind which a mysterious manufacturing of light and shade seemed to be going on. (Citation)

The magic lantern shifted the locus of the spiritual to the limelight itself, and turned the lanternist into a kind of thaumaturge. For instance, before the third production of Soldiers of the Cross at South Melbourne Town Hall Brigadier Unsworth prayed with at congregation:

that the pictures might be luminous with Divine light, [instilled] with divine power, and fruitful in bringing about more of that spirit of heroism that dominated the lives of the Christian martyrs of old. (MWC 13/10/00 p8)

The Army’s spiritual bellicosity was evoked in another comment by the War Cry:

The lecture is a double-barreled weapon, which captivates both sense of sight and enchains the mind, while indelible impressions are made upon it. (MWC 22/9/00 )

THE DISSOLVE

The Army’s slides, like all slides of the period, were propelled forward by the retinal frisson of the dissolve, as one image appeared to materialize itself within the very optical substance of the image it was replacing.  The rhetoric of the Army frequently equates the light of the lantern with the light of salvation, and the magical transformation of the dissolve with the transformative power of Jesus. A War Cry comment on William Booth’s 1891 lecture says:

You would be gazing intently at a street girl’s red jacket, until all at once you would discover that it was not a street girl’s dress, but a Salvationist’s guernsey, and the surroundings were totally different. You would be taking in that fact when a glance would show you that what you took for a guernsey was a fire, the pantaloons of an actor, the side of a house, red Maria, a red flannel petticoat, or the leg of a horse. (Citation)

INNOVATION

Booth’s major innovation was to scale up the traditional lantern lecture into a complete evening’s production, and to give it a thematic unity. As the War Cry reported:

Although the audience was take through a great variety of scene and incident, the intervals were cleverly bridged or, to change the metaphor, the stories, instead of being scattered gems were strung on an elocutionary necklace and, in their semblance or contrast made into a beautiful and complete circlet. (MWC 29/09/00 p8)

A secondary innovation was to work the kinematograph into the slides more closely. In Booth’s words:

I saw at a glance that living pictures, worked in conjunction with life-model slides, would provide a combination unfailing in its power of connecting narrative.’ (Citation)

THRILLS

This was in search of thrills — Army thrills to compete with all of the other thrills young people, particularly young men, had to divert them in 1900. In its pre-publicity for Soldiers of the Cross, the War Cry described it as a ‘new sensation’. It was the power of the thrill which led Booth to chose as his subject the martyrdom of the early Christians, because the bloody and violent martyrdoms provided opportunity for spectacle and action. If the thrill was one key concept, the other was realistic action. The intention was to create a retinal connection between the audience and the Christian martyrs. The ultimate objective was for people to pledge their souls to Christ and their lives to the Army at the end of the lecture. Realism, through the meticulously researched and supposedly historically accurate costumes, was one conduit of empathy, the other was the contemporary shots of the Holy Land and the copies of the great and familiar paintings which introduced each chapter.

As the War Cry predicted before opening night:

The thrilling scenes in the arena, the cruel tests, the thrilling presentiments of Christians under torture, the sustaining power of the presence of the invisible Christ should bring forth all that is best in the nature of the observers, while the graphic and eloquent word-pictures of our leader should tinge with colour, as with the hands of an artist in studies of human nature, these pictures, which all but speak their own story. May God’s spirit be poured upon lecturer, operator and audience alike!’ (MWC 15/9/00) p8)

TRANSPORT

Part of this thrill was also a sense of transport, to take the audience out of their seats in Melbourne, and into another spatio-temporal realm. As Booth promised:

I have sought to make everything absolutely correct. From the plumes on the Roman helmet and the imperial robe of Nero to the rough garments of the pagan slave, everything will be exact. You only have to follow the screen and you will be as much in Rome as if you had been there – now in the palace of Caesar, then in the open square – now in the residence of the patrician, then in the den of the libertine — now in the coliseum then in the Catacombs, where the early Christians concealed themselves for safety — all will be absolutely exact’ (MWC 18/8/00 p9)

This to me sounds very similar to the promises which had been made by stereograph manufacturers since the 1850s. By the 1900s sellers like Underwood and Underwood were marketing complete ‘Travel Systems’ incorporating, stereographs, guidebooks and maps, to give a similar, touristic sense of optical and retinal transport.

But to the Army audience this transport was more than just virtual tourism, it was transport of a more profound kind. A later report on a limelight meeting said:

the meeting almost becomes as a séance, and our spirits seem to blend with the spirits of these just ones.’(MWC 9/2/01 p9)

AFFECT

Was Soldiers of the Cross effective? The War Cry frequently reported on the ‘involuntary interjections, moans of pity, sighs of relief’ coming from the audience. (MWC 29/09/00 p8) All the Army reports are ecstatic, but they would be, wouldn’t they. However even the hard-bitten seen-it-all mainstream press confirmed the affective power of the production. The premiere scored a review from two out of the three of Melbourne papers, and both used the word ‘thrilling’.

The Age said:

To have some of the most tragic episodes of Christian history carried out in all savage but ?should? destroying realism is an accomplishment essentially of today. It was done by the aid of the kinematograph, when Commandant Booth delivered his thrilling lecture last night.

The Argus said:

Opening with the last days of the life of Christ, Commandant Booth dealt with the lives of the disciples [… ] and the thrilling scenes that were enacted in the arena of the Coliseum. Bold as the lecture was in conception, the illustration were even more daring. (MWC 22/9/09)

CONCLUSION

Soldiers of the Cross is extremely important not because it was Australia’s first film, but because it was Australia’s first large scale multimedia production. On at least several occasions it kept close to 2000 people simultaneously enthralled by a production which was experientially integrated over an entire two and a half hour period. It used technology from the nineteenth century, and technology which would to come to dominate the twentieth century, while it weaved together familiar technologically mediated experiences, collective viewing protocols and ritualized audience behaviours that had been developed and inculcated into Australian audiences during the previous decades. The scale and the complexity of the integration of these experiences looked forward to twentieth century media forms. One of those media forms was certainly the cinema, but others include the continuing history of the lantern itself, as well as much later media forms such as broadcast television and even, at a stretch, contemporary digital media platforms. For these reasons it is an extraordinary event in Australian history.

Martyn Jolly

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